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Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Understand the Point of Jesus' Life - Pastor John Roekle

February 18, 2018 [Lent 1] Mark 1:12-15

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Understand the Point of Jesus’ Life

Dear Friends in Christ,

“Who is Jesus?” That was the question asked by an interviewer who took to the streets. “Who is Jesus?” How would you answer that question? One man that was interviewed answered it this way:

I think he was a real person. I’m not sure about the Messiah part, but I think at least he was a prophet. He had some very important things to say. Regardless of whether or not he was real, the lessons that he teaches are extremely important. To make us more civilized. That’s the whole goal of all religions…to make us more civilized, so that we’re not killing one another and having wars and things like that. We need to learn to get along. That would be the thing that makes us different from the rest of the animal world…is that we can behave and get along with one another, help one another. You know, compassion. That really to me is the essence of Jesus.

Others who were interviewed said Jesus was a moral leader, a good man, a spiritual ‘guru’ like Gandhi, or “magician like David Blaine, but with way cooler tricks.”

Unfortunately, all those thoughts about who Jesus was miss the whole point of Jesus’ life. The point of Jesus’ life goes much deeper that any of those things. Of course, they all miss the point because they don’t understand who Jesus is in the first place. He is the Son of God. And as such, the life he lived and the life he gave has great personal meaning for you and for me. Let’s not miss the point of Jesus’ life, but let’s see it clearly in the short verses before us. Let’s see that the point of Jesus’ life was to defeat Satan for us, and to preach salvation to us.

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

This event occurred right after Jesus was baptized. Remember the point of Jesus’ baptism was not the same as ours. He did not need the forgiveness of sins as we do. He was already a part of the family of God, since he IS God. His baptism was like an installation into the public ministry. God was officially announcing his arrival into the world to work on behalf of the world.

And God didn’t waste any time getting to the real purpose that Jesus came to earth. The Holy Spirit led Jesus immediately into the lair of the enemy that Jesus came to defeat. Yes, Jesus came to defeat Satan, since it was Satan who first brought down mankind in the Garden of Eden.

And the arena in which the battle between Jesus and Satan took place would seem to favor Satan. Jesus was in the wilderness. In the wild. The fact that there were wild animals around tell us that he was in an area far from civilization. He was out there completely alone. In the other accounts of Satan’s temptations of Jesus, we find out that Jesus was fasting the entire time. And this was over a 40 day period. Think of how difficult it can be fasting for even a day! And now the devil throws out temptations to turn stones into bread; to jump from the top of the temple; and to bow down to Satan. Those are the main 3 temptations highlighted in Scripture, but Jesus faced a constant testing throughout the 40 days.

Who of us could ever be up to the task? Who of us could have resisted all of Satan’s persistent temptations? You know the truth all too well. After all, Satan’s attacks on you are very personal too. You fall into Satan’s traps much more often than you’d like to admit.

But thanks be to God that Jesus didn’t fall. Not even once. Not even a tiny slipup. Jesus resisted every temptation that Satan threw at him. Satan tried numerous other times throughout Jesus’ life to stop him in his tracks. But Jesus succeeded in thwarting the devil’s attacks every single time. And in the end, Jesus’ announcement “It is finished” was as much for our benefit as it was for Satan. This was the announcement that Satan would not and could not prevail over him or any of us. Jesus had finished the work he had set out to do: to defeat Satan. That was the point of Jesus’ life.

And how comforting that is for us. By resisting Satan, Jesus followed the Father’s will perfectly. That’s something that was impossible for us to do. Jesus did it in our place! And Jesus’ death means that Christ suffered the punishment for our sin, even suffering the depths of hell for us.

And so, when you face temptation, turn to Jesus. He know what it is like to face temptation all alone. He knows your struggle. He understands the pressure that is put on you to go against God’s will. It is Jesus then who is your strength to resist whatever the devil throws at you.

Defeating Satan on our behalf is the point of Jesus’ life. But there’s more. The point of Jesus’ life is also to communicate his salvation to us.

Was Jesus a prophet? He did prophesy. Was he a moral leader? He lived a righteous life. Was he a good man? I’d say he was a great man; perfect, in fact. Was he a miracle worker? He certainly did do miracles…miracles that were not tricks. They were acts which no human can explain. But those things are only descriptions of who Jesus was which all point to the purpose for which he was there: to defeat Satan in order to save us and to tell people, including us all about it.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

Up to the time of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist was the main person on the scene. He was the one proclaiming the fact that the Savior of the world had come into the world. He was the one who had pointed out to his own disciples who Jesus was: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

While the point of John’s ministry was to point out that the Messiah had arrived, the point of Jesus’ ministry was to announce that he himself is that Messiah. “These are the Scriptures that testify about ME,” Jesus once said.

The time had come for Jesus to announce this. God’s timing is always perfect. It was in this case too. Jesus was here to preach the Good News that it was he himself who had come to bring salvation to the world.

How does that salvation become ours? That was the purpose of Jesus’ preaching, to proclaim the how to us: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus continued to preach the message that John the Baptist preached: Repent! Jesus’ message is for you and me. We are to repent. And repentance is not to simply be a one time act. It is to be part of our daily routines. To repent of our sins and to believe that Jesus forgives us.

This past Wednesday we marked Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day on which we especially focus on repentance. I pray that you were able to see that emphasis throughout the service. Some churches emphasize repentance by putting ashes on their foreheads. And while you may be thinking that this is a Catholic tradition, you should know that many Lutheran churches also do this. But why?

Ashes are a reminder of what God said to Adam: “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Ashes are a reminder of our mortality. That indeed we are going to die. As we repent, we confess that we have failed to live up to God’s standard. We confess that we sin much. We confess that we deserve the punishment due sin. We deserve to suffer in hell.

But that’s not the only thing the ashes represent. If you have seen someone with ashes on their forehead, think of what symbol is made with the ashes. A cross. There’s the good news you and I are called on to believe! Because of Christ’s cross, we know we are forgiven. That means that even though I know I will die, I will not receive what is due me. I won’t receive hell. Instead, I will receive the crown of life in heaven because Jesus suffered hell and died in my place. The point of Jesus’ life is to communicate that truth to us over and over again.

Some might accuse Lutheran preachers of being repetitive. They may point out that we are constantly talking about our sin and forgiveness through Jesus. I’ll gladly take that criticism. After all, that’s what Jesus was all about. He spent his years proclaiming the Good News of God. And what was that Good News of God? That Jesus did everything necessary to win our salvation. He lived a perfect life and died an innocent death. And in so doing, it meant that he had utterly defeated Satan. And Jesus wants us all to know it and believe it. This was the point of Jesus’ life, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise! Amen.

Spread the News of Jesus - Pastor John Roekle

January 28, 2018 [Epiphany 4] Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Spread the News of Jesus

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are right in the middle of time of year when it isn’t unusual to have several kids missing from school on any given day, especially in the younger grades. Kids like to share things, and unfortunately germs are one of those things.

That is the concept behind a phrase that has developed in our digital age. The phrase: “Go viral.” When a picture or a video or a link is shared and shared by a multitude of people. You may recall the popular ‘Charlie bit me and it really hurt’ video or the one with the young boy whose dad taped him after having dental surgery and who said and did a bunch of goofy things as he was still affected by the anesthesia. Why do those things become so popular? Because people are quick to spread word about them. Hey did you see this? Check this out!

On one day at church in the city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, the things that Jesus said and did were so amazing that they went viral. Mark’s Gospel says: “News about him [Jesus] spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” Now this wasn’t a small feat when you think about it. There were no cell phones or even landline phones. There were no computers and nothing known as the internet. There was no television or radio. There weren’t even cameras. News spread strictly by word of mouth. One person talking to another in person.

And what Jesus did that day was something that people quickly shared with others. News about Jesus, his words and his works was soon known by everyone in that region. Now you and I do have the advantage of having various forms of communication. Even if we aren’t able to see a person face to face to talk to that person, we can communicate in a multitude of other ways, and very quickly at that. Let’s keep that in mind as we look once again at what Jesus says and Jesus does here. May we also be truly amazed. And in turn, may we take every opportunity to quickly spread the news of Jesus.

In Jesus’ day, church was held on Saturdays, the Sabbath. And it was customary to meet at the church which was held in what was called a synagogue. There a service was conducted which was highlighted by a speaker who would teach based on the Scripture lesson of the day. Often times, Jesus was asked to be the speaker. On this particular day, he was in the synagogue of Capernaum. Capernaum has been known as the city of Jesus, because it is here that Jesus lived and used as his home base after moving from his childhood city of Nazareth.

Note the reaction of the people as Jesus began to teach: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

Jesus clearly set himself apart from the other teachers of the law who taught in the synagogue. The teachers of the law would go on and on about the traditions of the elders. They would quote other rabbis. They were so wrapped up in relaying man-made teachings that the message God wanted to be proclaimed was lost in their words.

Jesus was like a breath of fresh air. You know what it is like to be in a stuffy house and then to walk outside and breath in the fresh air outside. It’s revitalizing. Jesus’ teaching breathed new life in his listeners. They were hearing things differently from Jesus. Of course, that’s because every word he spoke was God’s Word. His words are spirit and they are life.

And there was an aspect of Jesus’ teaching that was also different from the others. It was clearly authoritative. Why was Jesus able to speak with authority? Because he is, as John says, the Word made flesh. His words have authority because of who he is. He is the Son of God. He knows the entire will of God from eternity. He was in on all that God had planned in working out our salvation for us. He knew all the promises of the Old Testament, because he was involved in making all those promises. And he knew exactly how they would be fulfilled, and how many of them would be fulfilled through him.

There is no teacher like Jesus. His words are authoritative and give life. Why wouldn’t we want to spread the news of Jesus! To direct people to the Bible, through which the Spirit can do his work. Think about the fresh message you can bring to a person who is trapped in sin of some sort. Your sins are forgiven.

Listen to what Jesus says! Only the Word of Christ has the ability to bring people to faith. Use it!

So what prevents you from speaking to others about Jesus? Maybe sometimes it’s your confidence. How will I know what to say? What if they ask me something I can’t answer? When these questions come up, you might really want to ask yourself, how much time am I spending in God’s Word? Think about your routine. Maybe you’re one who reads the paper daily from front to back. Perhaps you’re one who has bookmarked all your favorite websites to check day to day. Maybe you’re one who makes sure that you use your favorite apps every day. Now ask yourself, how much attention do you give to God’s Word in comparison to those things? The Word is so available to you, either in the Bible you hold in your hand or an any digital device you can think of. Don’t forget the power that it contains. In it is the power of God for salvation for everyone…including you. As you take time to read your Bible each day, the Holy Spirit is equipping you with the ability to spread the news of Jesus.

And when you speak his marvelous word to others, tell them of Jesus’ wonderful works.

What Jesus said on that Sabbath in Capernaum, and the fact that he spoke with such authority was enough for the news of Jesus to go viral. But there was even more that happened there which showed everyone in attendance just how special Jesus was.

In the synagogue, Jesus encountered a man who was possessed by an evil spirit. It isn’t that it doesn’t or can’t occur today, but demon possession seemed to be much more common in Jesus’ day. And it often affected people in different ways. A demon literally took over their bodies causing physical ailments, or having superhuman strength. The object was certainly to harm – both the person possessed and those they encountered.

Now, when the demon possessed man heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue, he cried out: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” The one thing all demons have is that they recognize God when they are in his presence. Being in Jesus’ presence, he knew this was God. And he knew what God’s intention is, to destroy the power of demons by destroying the power of the Evil One, Satan himself.

And Jesus showed his authority and supremacy over Satan by commanding this demon to be quiet and then to come out of the man. And the demon came out.

Jesus had just won a victory over Satan a short time earlier when the Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus successfully warded off those temptations, defeating Satan. Following this incident, Jesus would continue to have encounters with Satan or his demons. And Jesus would be victorious in every case.

This was all partly in fulfillment of God’s promise of what Jesus would do to Satan in Genesis: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Satan and his demons worked hard to kill Jesus. They thought by doing that, they would end Jesus’ work of defeating them. Satan thought he had achieved that very purpose when Jesus was nailed to the cross at Calvary. Satan couldn’t have been more mistaken. In dying, Christ defeated Satan. His resurrection proved it. Satan couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave. That was impossible. But the Father of lies convinced himself to believe his own lies. And Jesus set him straight by declaring victory in his visit to hell following his resurrection.

There is so much evil in the world. The latest evil that seems to be in the news every day is that of sexual abuse in various forms. Whether it is a Hollywood producer, a politician, an athlete, or even a member of the family, the news is often very disheartening.

Think then, of the healing that the news of Jesus can do for people. It can assure people that Christ has come to defeat all evil. He has defeated sin and the devil’s power. For those guilty of sins of abuse, the Lord has the power to bring them to account and then to share with them the message of forgiveness.

Just think about what the effect the works of Jesus can have on someone who has been abused and who wonders if there really is a god. You can share with them that Jesus received worse abuse than anyone could possibly comprehend. The worst abuse he suffered was the torture that our sins caused him. And he was in it all alone…even God the Father separated himself from Jesus. And he did it so that you and I and everyone who believes the message would never have to suffer that kind of abuse.

You know how news can spread. Today it spreads almost instantly. People across the globe can hear the news at virtually the same moment. Let’s use that to our advantage. Let’s spread the news of Jesus – his marvelous word and his wonderful works. You gladly share news about your family, or your favorite recipe, or discuss the latest national news. But there is no news more importance than the news of Jesus. Let it go viral! Amen.

The Lord Works True Repentance - Pastor John Roekle

January 21, 2018 [Epiphany 3] Jonah 3:1-5,10 J.D.Roekle

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

The Lord Works True Repentance

Dear Friends in Christ,

Our Gospel lesson for today records the familiar invitation of Jesus to Simon Peter and Andrew, and then later to James and John. The invitation was simply: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they did follow Jesus.

Of course, those weren’t the only words Jesus spoke to them. We aren’t told all that was said, but we can confidently say that Jesus didn’t just simply say follow me without giving a reason to do so.

The verses just before Jesus extends this invitation give us a clue as to what Jesus would have talked them about. They read: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15“The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

So the message that led up to the invitation to follow Jesus contained the message of repentance. Repentance is what is really needed in order to follow Jesus. It is what you and I need too. As we take a closer look at the work of Jonah, we especially want to focus on the people of Nineveh, the people Jonah was sent to. We are told that the whole city of Nineveh from the greatest to the least repented and believed God. In some ways, those Ninevites should remind you of someone. You. And me. After all, repentance and faith is something that God has worked in us too. And that is the key: repentance is the Lord’s work. I pray that you see that clearly through this account. When you recognize that the Lord’s work is necessary for repentance, any doubts you have of your salvation are erased.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

The first time the Lord came to Jonah with the same command, Jonah turned around and went the other way. He got on a boat sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because it was the home of the hated Assyrians. They were a wicked nation with a bad reputation for treating poorly those whom they had captured.

While on the boat trying to escape God’s plan, Jonah was eventually thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. He was in the belly of that fish for 3 days and 3 nights before it spit him out. Now the Lord came to Jonah again to get him to go to Nineveh. And this time Jonah went.

God here is showing his grace not only on Jonah, but especially on the people of Nineveh. God persistently made sure that the people of Nineveh would hear his message. You and I also can be amazed at the grace of God in our lives that our Lord has persistently reached out to us through his grace. He has made sure that you have received his message through his representatives: through a parent, a pastor, a Christian teacher, a friend. Remember that it is grace on God’s part to do this since we are by nature just like those Assyrians. We are godless and wicked and deserving of destruction…eternal destruction. But God has persistently sent someone or someone-s in order to relay his message of God’s love to us. Please understand: it was God who came to you, and not the other way around. It was God who came to you with his message of warning and his message of comfort through his messengers.

What is that message? Listen to what Jonah was to proclaim. “On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.””

Jonah’s message was certainly proclaiming God’s Law…Nineveh would be turned upside down…they would be destroyed. Because of their wickedness, their sin, God was telling them what they truly deserved. But don’t miss the other part of the message. God’s Grace and mercy. In telling the Ninevites that they had 40 more days, he was being merciful to them. He was giving them a warning.

Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned. You and I can be pretty confident that Jonah’s message was more than 8 words long (or just 5 words in the original language of Hebrew). This was simply a representation or a summary of what his message was. No doubt he talked about their sin, and their need for a Savior. When he delivered this message, we see the result: “The Ninevites believed God.” Wow! Here was lone prophet of Israel coming to the powerful Ninevites with this simple message, and they believed it! They believed God. You see God was there all along working through that message.

You also regularly hear the Lord’s warning: You are sinners who deserve God’s wrath and punishment. What you have done or left undone warrants God’s anger. And because he is a just God he must punish it. But then you also regularly hear the Lord’s comforting message of grace and mercy: Because of Christ-his life, his death, his resurrection- you will not die, but live.

And it is through both of these messages that the Holy Spirit operates in order to work true repentance and faith in your hearts. You believe you are a sinner, but you also believe you are saved.

That’s what the Ninevites believed too. How can we be sure that they truly repented and believed? By their actions. “They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”

By fasting, they were showing that they were focused on their repentance. They weren’t just paying lip service, but they truly were sorry for their sins. Another evidence of that was the fact that they all put on sackcloth. The greatest to the least. It started with the king on down. They wore sackcloth… maybe something along the line of burlap. Sackcloth was what they wore when they were mourning. Here it was a reminder that they were mourning over the destruction their sin had caused. In a verse that isn’t a part of this text, we find out that not only did the king put sackcloth on, but he also sat down in the dust. Sitting in dust or ashes is a reminder of one’s mortality. It is a reminder of God’s words to Adam: “for dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

The sackcloth and dust or ashes is evidence of their repentance. But there was more evidence for the words of our text declare that the Ninevites “turned from their evil ways.”

When God works true repentance in our hearts, we will feel sorrow over our sins. We will realize the pain we have caused God and what is due us. But repentance doesn’t stop there. It also desires to turn away from the wrongs we commit. To not repeat the same sin over and over. To not give excuses to our sins, but to try to avoid them. Instead true repentance seeks ways to serve God.

And God leads us to true repentance so that he can reassure us of his comforting message. When the Ninevites repented and turned from their evil ways, we are told that the Lord “had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” In fact, we know from history that God did not lay a hand of the Ninevites of that generation who had repented. It was about 150 years later that Nineveh was destroyed.

As you and I go forward in Christ, we do so with the confidence that the Lord will not bring upon us the destruction he has threatened. It is because of Christ, we can go forward with hearts and minds at peace, knowing we have Christ’s forgiveness. It is with repentant hearts that we regularly examine our sinful hearts, and that we turn to Christ for absolution. It is with repentant hearts that we confidently follow Christ. It is with repentant hearts that we seek to do God’s will.

Note the one thread that is consistent all along. The Lord’s help! Left to ourselves, we wouldn’t have a chance. We would be lost. As we turn to the Lord in the Gospel, we can be certain that the Lord will continue to work in us all that we need for our life here and in eternity. Amen.